Conservation of Rare Stumpwork Find

1st July, 2017

Bridget Maynard, a past pupil of our Head of Studio and Teaching, Anne Butcher, recently brought in a very rare find to our Embroidery Studio and caused great excitement.

Bridget’s piece was a Stumpwork picture that she purchased at an art fair in Battersea.It appears to be from around the mid 17th century at a time when domestic embroidery was a popular pastime and designs could be purchased pre-drawn onto the fabric. Since the early 15th century design books have featured different elements that could be combined, making it easier for embroiderers. For example, the stag that appears on this piece can also be seen on an embroidery in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool and the Kingfisher is also on an embroidery in Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. The design here has the traditional combination of royalty, figures, castle, church, foliage and animals.

All embroidery has been worked directly onto the background fabric, except the needlelace slips. The embroidery looks padded as there are a lot of threads on the reverse left loose and hanging (see right of the pear tree). There is a combination of silk embroidery along with some Metal Thread embroidery. The stag is worked in the most exquisitely fine gimp thread that has been couched around the shape in parallel rows.

Very excitingly, small remains of a couched down peacock feather were found within the caterpillar embroidery, between the two ladies, just under the head. (It can be seen more clearly in photograph than with the naked eye).  Unusually the Moss Stitch parrot has an underlying layer of embroidery.

This Stumpwork piece has previously undergone some conservation work as it has been covered with surface couching which is now deteriorating as well.  Our Embroidery Studio has secured some of the weaker areas of this conservation using invisible thread. There was also evidence that adhesive treatment had previously been used, which had unfortunately caused some damage (see top right of donkey for remains of paper and adhesive). This has been left untouched and just received support from the new fabric that the piece has now been placed upon, but will show the journey the piece has been through.

It is amazing to find a piece like this for sale and an absolute treat for the Embroidery Studio to have conserved it.  Thank you to Bridget for bringing it to us!